An author recently queried on Facebook, “Is this a new thing, teachers going on Twitter asking authors to give them sets of books?”
It seems that this is a thing. A bad thing.
We all know how difficult it is for teachers to get supplies for their classrooms and we know they work hard to obtain materials to provide optimal learning experiences for students where school districts fall short. I think most of us admire what teachers do on behalf of their students. I know that some school librarians work just as hard to get books.
But, those who are asking authors to donate sets of books are missing a few significant details. While there may be some authors who are particularly affluent, many are not, as could be said for most professions including teachers. Authors are not provided access to a vast supply of no cost copies of their books.
Early in my blogging career, I would contact authors and ask them for copies of their books so that I could have them to review. They would put me in contact with their publisher who would send a copy of the advanced release copy (ARC) if it was available. Authors do not have classroom sets of their books to give away. While there are some who are quite willing and able to donate to classrooms there are so many who are not.
Also, what’s ‘free’ to you isn’t ‘free’ to everyone; it’s a matter of perspective. If you’re asking an author for books that you don’t have to pay for, they will have to obtain the book, get packing material and pay to ship the books to you. There’s time involved in this effort as well! This is not ‘free’ to them. Most authors are self-employed and their time is money. The same goes for author visits, whether they be via Skype or in person. Time spent in classrooms is time not writing. It’s really hard for most authors to turn down visits with students; they write for these young people! If they’re not on tour, they’re writing. School visits are important to authors, but not so much as a free service.
So, what’s a teacher to do?
- Make your school administrator aware of your needs. When they tell you there is no money, ask them for suggestions on how to get the books you need. Keep them aware of what you’re doing and what you need. Make sure your administrators are aware of any actions you take to obtain materials that the school should provide. Be sure parents and other stakeholders are aware as well.
- Attend school board meetings and PTO/PTA meetings so that you can become more aware of funding opportunities available to you. If you routinely attend these meetings, you’ll learn how to approach them for funding. And, because you’ve been at their meetings you’ve increased your visibility to them.
- At the beginning of the year when all the letters go home, I used to include a list of possible items for donation. This would include things like tissues, cleansers, plants and pencils. Why not also mention the need for books or book gift cards?
- If you’re in a more affluent school why not create a few service projects that raises money to buy books for other schools?
- Make use of smaller sets of books by teaching around a theme. This will allow you to address various reading levels or to provide alternatives to texts parents may find objectionable.
- Work with your school librarian to find ways to access multiple copies of books, If your school doesn’t have a librarian, be sure to remind administrators of this important service that librarians could provide. Be sure they know! If you do have a librarian, be sure your administrators know how you collaborate to get books for your students. Always let administrators know of special projects that you undertake.
- If you don’t have a school librarian, work with a public librarian in your district. They are well prepared to help teachers find classroom books. Some will have sets available for checkout.
- Librarians are information specialists! They may also be able to help you find grants to purchase classroom materials.
- Libraries are vital to literacy instruction! Be sure to know when your local library has a book sale. This is a very low cost way to get books for instructional purposes or to build classroom libraries. If publishers have a warehouse near you, find out when they have sales, too.
- Use services such as Bookmooch, Donor’s Choose, First Book Foundation, The Reading Resource Project or Kids Need to Read to get low cost or no cost books for your classes.
- Half Price Books offers discounts for educators. The Scholastic Teacher store offers discounts, too.
- Look through Goodwills, Salvation Armys and garages sales for used copies of books that students have passed along.
- Consider developing fund raisers. If you’re in a high school, can you, your students and their parents earn money working concession stands? Can you team up with a math or business class to create a project based learning experience to earn money for books? What can you sell at school, church or other community to raise money?
- Build a network of classroom supporters with whom you can share an Amazon Wishlist. These could easily be your church, synagogue, mosque, FB or Twitter community of followers. I used to do this for elementary classrooms and every month, I’d send them new books.
- I believe the goal is often to give the book to the student so that they can build a home library. Allow students who don’t want to keep the book to return it. Get in the habit of collecting books back from students.
- Look for local businesses that partner with schools and classrooms. Does your school have a business partner? If not, look into developing such a partnership for your school or classroom. The high school I worked in had a business partner that provided materials, tutors and even summer internships for students.
- Vote for politicians that support education.
I now obtain my review copies when I attend conferences, particularly the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), Assembly on Literature for Adolescents of the NCTE (ALAN) and American Library Association (ALA) Annual and Midwinter conferences. Know that ALA allows people to purchase reasonably priced exhibition passes that allow you to visit vendor’s booths. Most of the books I receive at these events are not final copies, but they are copies I can use to write a review and the author is often available to sign the book.
In a land where children and education are valued, educators don’t have to work so hard to get books with which to teach. Classroom supplies don’t come out of their own pocket and they don’t have to beg and borrow to get pens and pencils. Let’s not even talk about technology needs. But, here we are.
I think my biggest takeaway for you is not to hide your need or your resourcefulness. Be sure your stakeholders, your administrators, school board members, PTO/PTA members and parents, know how hard it is to get what you need to teach students. But most important, be sure your students know. Let them know how hard you work on their behalf. Include them in this work when you can, but be sure they know schools are not providing the resources they should. These are important lesson on equity and access to information. Remember, these are future voters.
And, stop requesting classroom sets of books from authors.